Updated: Apr 25, 2020
For people over 30 who are into skin care, retinol is something they use often, have considered or at least wonder about from time to time.
But what exactly is this ingredient so often seen in creams and serums alongside buzzwords like "age-defying," "anti-wrinkle" or "reparative?" Is retinol safe? When should it be used and why?
What is Retinol
Retinol is a synthetic derivative of vitamin A, the group of fat-soluble vitamins common in carrots, eggs and sweet potatoes.
When retinol is applied topically, it converts to retinoic acid by specialized enzymes found in the skin. Retinoic acid can also be applied topically, but is much harsher than a retinol cream or serum, as it does not convert naturally over time.
"Retinol is a gold-standard ingredient in skin care because it alters the behavior of aged cells so they act in a more youthful manner. It smooths and refines skin's texture, enhances skin radiance and treats aging,". When retinol is incorporated into age-preventive skin care routines, it helps accelerate skin renewal, enhance collagen production and reduce the appearance of aging, uneven texture and age spots.
Applying vitamin A topically in the form of retinol can include the following benefits:
Prevent wrinkles due to its minimizing effect, as well as smooth out existing fine lines and wrinkles.
Brighten dull skin by exfoliating at a cellular level, which results in brighter and smoother new skin.
Regulate oily skin and minimize breakouts.
Fade dark age spots, sun spots and hyperpigmentation and even out complexion over time.
Since retinol is such a powerful ingredient, it can cause the skin to redden or peel if it's incorporated into a skin care regimen too quickly or used too often. Flakiness, dryness and even some breakouts can occur when retinol is first added to a routine. Typically, it just takes a little time for the skin to adjust.
"Begin slowly by adding it into a nightly routine one to two times per week for the first week and increasing it gradually from there, depending on how the skin reacts. "If there is visible redness or peeling, use it once per week for a month then increase to twice per week and monitor the skin for irritation before increasing use."
Those using a retinol cream or serum to allow it to absorb in the skin for 20 to 30 minutes before applying another product on top. It is also imperative to use sunscreen daily to protect skin while using retinol, as it can become more sensitive to sun.
Clients who are considering pregnancy, or are pregnant or nursing to consult their obstetrician before beginning or continuing their retinol treatment. Other retinoids, such as prescriptions like Isotretinoin that's taken orally to treat acne, have shown harmful side effects for pregnant women, including miscarriage.
I recommended incorporating a retinol product into a skin care routine at age 30, three to four times a week. By the 40s, every other night is beneficial and in the 50s, 60s and beyond, incorporate a retinol product five to seven times per week.
Due to its powerful cell renewal property, retinol can be incredibly helpful for people who often have acne and breakouts. It helps to normalize cell turnover and has an exfoliating effect that stops pores from clogging and pimples, blackheads and cysts from forming.
For teenagers suffering from severe acne, it's vital to check with a dermatologist first and be sure to not mix retinol with other ingredients that could overdo its effects.
"If you are using an acne routine or products that include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or a prescription product, which may already have some form of retinoid and may even be stronger than over-the-counter skin care, adding more retinol could irritate the skin,
Vitamin A is composed of two parts: retinoids and carotenoids. Retinoids stimulate the production of collagen, hyaluronic acid and elastin, which is what reduces visible wrinkles and large pores, heals acne and fades hyperpigmentation. Retinol (along with Retinyl Palmitate and Retin-A) is one form of a retinoid.